Midway through our journey, we find ourselves stuck. Dante and Virgil need to figure out how to get to the “next level” (in this case, down to it).
I’m crafting a brief reflection to mark the halfway point in the poem–this most eerie episode when Dante must ride the monster of fraud, even as our Jake Willard-Crist rides the steel beast back from Chicago (and will post his offering – the official post for this day – after he’s settled back in).
This episode in the poem has always been most fascinating for me. In Gil Bailie’s lectures on Inferno – listened to about nine years ago, and they have always been a huge influence on me – he points out that this midway meeting with Geryon, the monster of fraud, has to do with the poetic enterprise itself. Is this Dante wrestling with his art, the “vehicle” through which he has attained fame, but the vehicle through which he is aiming at truth itself? Virgil “rousing” that beast that makes the next step possible takes some prodding, some negotiating.
What Dante is doing, we must remember, is theology-in-poetry, that which aims at the highest truth. Can one ride the monster of fraud (which has an honest man’s face) toward the the angelic realm? Can lies lead to truth? Can fiction bring true knowledge? And perhaps more to the whole artistic enterprise: how do you muster the strength to go on when you realize that the enterprise itself (Dante’s fiction) is itself a fraud?
I have attempted in my life five novels. It’s at this point (half way) where I always seem to run out of steam. Is that where Dante is as well, in his writing enterprise? Realizing the fraud of the whole thing? Some other force – in this case, a beast with a poison tail – needs to give you a lift. So to speak.
Jake – look forward to what you have to say.